An outdated rule that several federal governments failed to change has caused Canadians to be automatically stripped of their citizenship.
The rule was introduced as part of a 1977 law and despite a decades-long campaign to get it revoked, nothing was done about it until 2009.
It is dubbed the ’28-year rule’ and means anyone born abroad to Canadian parents who were also born outside Canada stands to lose their citizenship when they turn 28.
The rule was introduced as part of the Citizenship Act in 1977 and applied to anyone born between February 15, 1977 and April 16, 1981, saying they had to reapply for their citizenship before their 28th birthday.
It was aimed at stopping citizenship by descent for those where more than one generation was born outside Canada.
Although it was repealed in 2009, it was not done so retrospectively, meaning those already turned 28 and subject to the conditions had already lost their citizenship, many of them without realising.
There are several examples of people who have tried to make regular government transactions, only to be told they were no longer Canadian citizens.
Many people have found it extremely unsettling to be told they are no longer Canadian citizens, despite it being the only country they have ever called home.
The process for regaining that citizenship can be time consuming, costly and confusing.
Many of those affected have employed immigration lawyers to sort the mess out. It can often mean needing to reapply for landed immigrant status, before requalifying for citizenship.
Several of those affected who tried to sort the problem out before turning 28 were even told their status was secure at government service centres, as officers employed to give out advice were themselves unaware of the rule’s existence.
By what appears to be a quirk of coincidence, many of those affected are members of the Mennonite community.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada says as many of those affected as possible are notified of the need to reapply in order to retain their citizenship, but there is no way of telling how many people are subject to the rule and therefore no systematic way of letting them all know.
Anyone who believes they may be affected by the rule is advised to contact the immigration department.
Meanwhile, the federal government has said it has no plans to stop revoking citizenships while it decides if it will repeal a law that gives it the power to do so without the need for a hearing.
Despite apparent support from within the Liberal party for the citizenship-stripping law to be changed or revoked – including from Immigration Minister John McCallum – no suspension of the practice will take place.
Currently the government can take away the citizenship of anyone accused of mispresenting themselves in order to get into Canada.
The person’s only avenue to overturn the decision is by judicial review, after losing their citizenship.
As recently as May 2016, the Canadian auditor-general highlighted serious flaws in the process of acquiring Canadian citizenship, suggesting immigration authorities routinely failed to adequately detect and prevent fraud.
The audit examined more than 100,000 adult citizenship applications submitted during the period July 2014 to October 2015, under the former Conservative government.
Key Failures of Immigration Department
- Failed to adequately detect and prevent fraud in the citizenship program.
- Did not have a systematic method of identifying and documenting fraud risks.
- Important controls designed to help citizenship officers identify and act on fraud risks were not consistently applied.
- Not reliably receiving from its partners – the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the Canada Border Services Agency – important information on criminal charges of applicants.
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